Francis McQ. Lawrence and Rhonda Quagliana, Huguely’s defense attorneys, have maintained that Love’s death was a tragic accident. Lawrence used forensic testimony late last week to suggest that Love may have been alive, perhaps even on her feet, when Huguely left her apartment the night she died. (Image courtesy of Nick Strocchia.)
If the defense team has one advantage, it’s that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. You may already know this, but when you’re sitting in court watching a case of this magnitude, it’s important to remind yourself that the defense doesn’t have to prove Mr. Huguely’s innocence one bit. All they need to do is convince the reasonable ladies and gentleman of the jury that his guilt is in doubt. It only needs to be possible, reasonably possible, that there might be another explanation for the series of events laid before you. And if you think about how many arguments in your life have started with “That’s not what happened,” or “I never said that,” then you can begin to grasp the absurd complexity of a murder trial.
The Commonwealth’s opening statement was gripping. Despite having read countless descriptions of Yeardley Love’s death, I found Mr. Chapman’s calm narration of her final hours very powerful, which is, of course, what he wanted. In a very basic sense, the best tool the prosecution has is the chronicle of one person’s death. It’s a tough act to follow.
Especially since the prosecution revealed for the first time the contents of email fragments that Huguely and Love sent each other a few days before she died. They contain a phrase that’s destined to become the headline to a million articles and the tagline to the inevitable movie: I should have killed you.
Huguely’s probably as good as hanged in most people’s minds based on that alone.
Understand that a trial is not about telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s about telling a certain truth, within a certain context and a set of proscribed rules. It’s theater, with two companies staging different versions of the same play. Now imagine a theater where the actors, stagehands, and audience all mill about together during intermission, and you might have some idea how awkward I felt waiting in line for the bathroom next to one of Love’s roommates, Kaitlin Duff. Moments ago I had watched her weep as she talked about her dead friend, and it was my job to count and describe her tears. We both have to be there, and we both have to pee. In the lobby I ignored her as if she was a stranger, but back in the courtroom I watched her every move.
Because she’s not a stranger and it’s my job.
It was hard to listen to Caity Whiteley tell her story, about how she walked into Yeardley Love’s room, knelt on the bed, and touched her best friend’s shoulder.
She was lying on her stomach, naked back half-covered by a comforter, her hair loose and spread out behind her. Her body was warm, but her feet were cold.
I don’t like thinking about that moment, but I have to. I’m sure Whiteley doesn’t like thinking about it either. She’s told this story many times, to police, lawyers, grand juries, and now us. When will she be able to stop?
It’s her job. She has to.
The defense will get their turn in the spotlight after the prosecution has finished, but they’ve already started setting the stage during cross examinations. Their story is about a group of young kids who live together, play together, eat, drink, and sleep together. It’s about “hooking up” and “doing shooters.” It’s about petty dramas played out at their favorite bar, Boylan Heights (get ready, Boylan, for your 15 minutes of infamy), dramas that never rose above the level of MTV’s Real World, until a catastrophic series of events led two young people towards, what the defense calls, an “accident with a tragic outcome.”
That’s not the whole truth, but it’s a version of the truth. And I don’t blame the defense for telling it.
Because, after all, it’s their job, and they have to.